Today is the 83rd birthday of one of the greatest masters of that treacherous instrument , the French horn ,or as some purists insist ,the horn , Australian native and world citizen ,Barry Tuckwell . He has been retired from playing the horn in public since the late 1990s ,but is still very much active as a teacher and a conductor .
As a former horn player myself ,I've always been in awe of his incredible virtuosity and golden tone . But this is true of every one who plays this instrument . He makes it sound as though playing this extremely difficult instrument were easy ! Tuckwell is one of the few horn players to make a successful career as a full time soloist ,although he began as an orchestral player .
Because of his astounding virtuosity , Tuckwell has been called the "Heifetz of the horn ". Born in Melbourne in 1931 , Tuckwell took up the horn as a boy and showed such innate andprodigious talent for the instrument he began to play professionally in Australian orchestras as a teenager . He moved to England and played in various leading British orchestras until becoming principal horn of the presitgious London symphony orchestra ,playing under many of the world's foremost conductors , and left the orchestra to pursue a career as a solo hornist ,appearing to great acclaim all over the world
In addition ,he has made numerous recordings ,more than any other horn player , of the horn concertos by Mozart ,Haydn , Richard Strauss ,Paul Hindemith , Carl Maria von Weber and lesser known composers who have written solo works for the instrument , as well as new works by leading contemporary composers such as Gunther Schuller , a former horn player himself , Thea Musgrave , Robin Holloway , Richard Rodney Bennet Oliver Knussen and others . These composers have written works specifically for him .
Tuckwell has also been active as a conductor , appearing with many different orchestras , including the London symphony , and has served as music director of the Baltimore symphony orchestra in America . He has taught horn master classes alll over the world as well as teaching privately at leading music schools .
He has written three books on horn playing ,including one for the late Yehudi Menuhin's series of books on the various orchestral instruments written by various great virtuosos . This book is a goldmine of fascinating information about the history of the horn ,its playing technique and construction , and I recommend it highly .
If you would like to experience his great artistry , try his recordings of some of the most famous works for the horn first , such as the concertos of Mozart and Richard Strauss first . They are easily available at amazon.com and elsewhere on the internet .
"Modest Maestro " sounds like an oxymoron , but today is the 85th birthday of the venerable Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink (High -tink) ,one of the most eminent maestros of our time . Conductors have the reputation of being flashy, imperious ,egotistical and sometimes downright ruthless , but the veteran Dutch conductor has never shown any of these qualities . He may be the most unpretentious individual ever to achieve world renown on the podium .
And musicians in virtually all the world's great orchestras have enormous respect for his sterling musicianship and leadership abilities . They certainly don't like every conductor they work under , and in some cases they have nothing but contempt for them , but if you talk to ny of them , they have nothing but the highest regard for him . They can spot a phony instantly .
He has conducted virtually all of the world's top orchestras and conducted opera at the Met and served as music director of London's presitgious Royal Opera for some years ,but the orchestra with which he has been most closely associated is the great Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , where he was principal conductor for many years untlil stepping down in the late 1980s . This is the foremost orchestra in the Netherlands , and virtually all the world's greatest conductors have appeared with it .
Mestro Haitink has also served as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic , the Staatskapelle of Dresden , music director of the presitgious Glyndebourne opera festival in England , principal guest conductor of the Boston symphony , and served for some time as principal conductor of the Chicago symphony ,not music director , in between Daniel Barenboim and its curren tmusic director Riccardo Muti . He has also been a regular with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Bavarian Radio symphony of Munich and the Berlin Philharmonic .
As a conductor,Haitink has always avoided interpretive flashiness , and his performances are straightforward but anything but dull . His repertoire ranges from Mozart and Beethoven to works by contemporary composers ., He is particularly renowned for his performances of the monumental symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler, which he has recorded complete .
Haitink has made numerous recordings of orchestralrepertoire as well as a number of complete opera recordings , including Wagner's complete Ring with the Bavarian Radio orchestra . He has made no fewer than three recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies , three of the four Brahms symphonies , the six of Tchaikovsky , the nine of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams , the four of Robert Schumann, aand many other composers . The Netherlands has produced a fair number of composers ,none well known outside of the country , but Haitink regularly performed their music in his native Amsterdam .
He has reached the age of 85, a time when most people have long been retired or are now in homes for the elderly , but maintains an active international schedule . Many great conductors ,such as Stokowski , Ormandy , Sir Adrian Boult , Otto Klemperer , Kurt Sanderling , Pierre Boulez , Kurt Masur , and others have never felt the need to retire because the physical activity of conducting seems to promote good health in old age .
So let's all wish a happy 85th birthday to a modest but remarkable musician !
Why am I mangling the title of a famous song by Duke Ellington ? I'd like to talk about the importance of context in classical music . As I see it ,it's a major stumbling block to enjoying classical music for many .
When most people think of music ,they think of SONGS . Pop songs . Rock songs etc . What do these songs deal with for the most part ? Love . Possibly politics or some other things . But while vocal music is a very important part of classical , much of it is purely instrumental . Symphonies,concertos , sonatas ,symphonic poems , suites , etc .
So many people are just not accustomed to listening to purely instrumental music . If you take someone and play him or her a recording of a symphony by Beethoven , or a sonata for piano,or a string quartet etc and that person has no background in this kind of music , knows next tonothing about classical ,chances are it will mean nothing to that individual . Possibly ,it might sound interesting , and it might pique his curiosity , but it might also be totally puzzling . Or boring or irrritating .
This person has no context,no frame of reference when it comes to classical music . You might compare it to speaking a language that person does not know at all to him . In order to understand a language and speak it , you need to study it carefully .
Actually , getting familiar with classical music and learning about different genres and forms in it , the history , etc , is nowhere near as difficult as learning ,say , Chinese,Japanese or Russian . But you DO need to leanr SOMETHING about it in order to REALLY gain enjoyment and mental stimulus from it . It wasn't a problem for me as a teenager , since I doscovered it on my own and began devouring every recording , book and and magazine I could get my hands on . I soaked it all up naturally . All the information I could find about it . But I'm not a typical example of how people get interested in classical music .
I read everything I could about composers and their works ,their lives , etc . And I went through rigorous musical training as a music major in college and graduate school . Some people are lucky enough to have had parents who love classical music and who play recordings of it at home and take them to concerts . I didn't come from a very musical family , but somehow ,I discovered classical music when I was about 13 and the rest is history .
What can people do to gain that all important context and frame of reference ? There are plenty of good books explaining classical music for the uninitiated ,and plenty of internet resources . It's all out there for anyone who is willing to give classical music a chance .Now if there were only more peope like this in America . . . .
It's not "politically correct "for lovers of classical music to denigrate Pop music, Rock , or other kinds of non-classical music . To do so,or even to say you prefer classical, is to open yourself up to accusations of being a "snob" and an "elitist ". But it's perfectly acceptable for people to denigrate classical music , to dismiss it as "stuffy, boring and elitist ", irrelevant ,passe , a plaything for the wealthy , a musty old art form consisting almost entirely of dated music from the past , or even racist . Music dominated by "Dead White European Males ".
But these notions are all myths . And unfortunately , these myths have closed the minds of so many people to the possibility of enjoying so much magnificent music written over the centuries . It's a fact - many people dislike classical music not because of the music itself ,but because they've heard these myths repeated over and over .
Of course, there's no law that says you MUST love classical music , nor should there be one . If some people don't like it, that's certainly their right . But they shouldn't dislike it for the wrong reasons ! As the old saying goes , "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it ". And so many people haven't really TRIED it . Classical music is probably the most diverse kind of music in existence in terms of musical styles and genres .
There is music by so many composers of different nationalities, many NOT European , and styles have changed vastly over the centuries . The musicof Stravinsky is vastly different from the music of Beethoven . Beethoven'smusic is vastly different from the music of Claudio Monteverdi who lived in Italy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries . The music of Monteverdi is very different from Palestrina ,also of Italy , who lived a couple of generations before him . And so on .The music of Philip Glass , who is still very much alive , is vastly different from Stravinsky's .
The music of Richard Wagner , a German , is vastly different from the music of Giuseppe Verdi, an Italian born in the same year , 1813 . Orchestral music is very different form opera , and chamber music is very different form both . There's such amazing diversity in what we call classical music . So people should not listen to just one or two pieces of it and decide they don't like the whole shebang . Can you imagine someone who grew up isolated from the world and saw of movie for the first time , and decided he or she didn't like movies ?
So if you're going to listen to some classical music , listen to various types of it ; orchestral , opera , chamber music , art songs etc . Chances are you will like some classical works and not others . It's just the same with movies . We all like some , but not others . However,with classical music , you often need repeated hearings before you know whether you like something or not . You should always be wary of rejecting a work immediately . Give it a chance .
There are also some unfortunate people who don't like classical music because of music appreciation classes they took as children or teenagers in school . If a teacher does not a good job of explaining this kind of music , is a boring , apathetic teacher , etc , the effect can be deadly and close a young person's mind for life . However, too many public schools have long abandoned music appreciation classes altogether , and so many young people get zero exposure to classical music . This has done possibly even more damage to the cause of classical music . It's not the fault of these young people that they get no exposure to it . If you mention the name Ludwig van Beethoven to them you will get blanks states and they will reply "Ludwig van who ?"
There are no easy answers as to how to remedy this unfortunate situation , and how to increase the popularity of classical music . But something MUST be done ,and I'm convinced that it CAN be done . It certainly won't be easy , but it's not impossible .
No, this isn't about the great writer and humorist . It's about the alleged "death" of classical music . Yes, rumors of the death of classical music have been greatly exaggerated , like the death of Mark Twain long ago . Classical music is neither dead nor dying , for all its undemiable problems .
But recently , one Mark Vanhoenacker , writing for slate.com , went so far as to declare classical music dead and buried . (How do you pronounce his name, anyway ?) He trotted out all the usual facts and half-truths ; the audience is aging ; there's a lack of younger people at concerts , numerous orchestras and opera companies ,not only in the U.S. , have gone under or are close to it . It's difficult to sell out performances ; the costs of running opera companies and orchestras are prohibitive ; audiences are predominantly white ; there's a woeful lack of new music which audiences like .
Vanhoenacker also sets up at least one or two straw men ; "fancy clothes " are a problem . He does not state whether the fancy clothes are worn by either audiences or the performers . Audiences don't wear "fancy clothes " for the most part ,and there is no dress code requiring formal attire . Orchestras dress somewhat formally ,but so what ? What's so horrible about a concert where the men are wearing tuxedos or black ties ? How can this make going to concerts a less enjoyable experience ? Would it be nicer if they all wore dungarees and T shirts ?
In addition , the author mentions "incomprehensible program notes " at concerts . This might be a problem in some cases ,where the writer doesn't do a good job explaining the music or the circumstances behind the composition of the works , but the writers, who tend to be professional musicologists , don't generally write as though they were writing scholarly papers for a conference of musicologists or highly technical analyses by music theorists , which are certainly highly technical and esoteric . Personally , I have not heard a great many stories about program notes being incomprehensible .
But classical music , for all the difficulties it faces , is far from "dead " or even being moribund . Wolrdwide , there are still more professional orchestras ,opera companies , chamber ensembles , solo instrumentalists of all instruments , choruses , opera and concert singers than ever before . And there is most definitely an audience for them . The vast majority have not gone under .
There are also more composers than ever before , and by no means all of them are white males . The notion that there is a lack of new music is a myth . Since the year 2,000 , numerous new works have been premiered ; orchestral works, operas , oratorios , etc in a wide variety of compositional styles ranging from rather old -fashioned conservative works designed not to distress audiences to works of mind-boggling complexity which are extremely challenging an daunting listenign experiences .
Many critics and composers say that the repertoire of classical music has become "ossified ", and performing groups tend to repeat the same old familiar masterpieces to the exclusion of new works . This is a half truth . There is a canon of lastingly popular operas, symphonies,concertos etc , and many opera companies and orchestras tend to concentrate on these , but there are many exceptions to this rule . Every year , there is a steady stream of new works by many different composers from all over the world . Of course , most of these works will never achieve a lasting place in the reprtoire , but this is true of the vast majority of works written over the centuries .
Far from being "ossified ", the repertoire of classical music is in constant flux . In addition to the established, beloved masterpieces , there are new works every year ,plus revivals of works which had been long neglected . In addition to live performances , a staggeringly wide variety of classical music is available on CD , and more and more is becoming available on DVD . If you want to hear music beyond the familiar works of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven , Tchaikovsky , Ravel and other famous composers , you can hear music by composers few people but diehard classical music fans have ever heard of . More than you could ever imagine . Lots of interesting music which has been undeservedly neglected .
The internet now enables you to hear the entire range of western classical music ranging from works written over five centuries ago to the latest works by living composers . If you want to see an opera performance but don't wnt to pay for expensive tickets or don't live anywhere near an opera house , you can now see live performances by the Metropolitan opera at your local movie theater for about $ 20 dollars instead of $ 350 for one of the better seats at the Mets home in Lincoln Center . Or you can wait until the DVD comes out .
On youtube, you can hear an amazingly wide variety of classical music for nothing . You can hear recordings and see entire concerts by the world's greatest orchestras ,conductors, pianists and violinists etc . Works by just about ANY ocmposer ,period . You can see complete operas by many different composers complete with English subtitles . Sung by the world's greatest singers, living and dead . You can stream live and recorded performances by the Metropolitan opera on their website .
Is it a feast or a famine for classical music today ? You might say both . But don't ever believe anyone who says that it is either dead or dying .
The great and revered Italian conductor Cllaudio Abbado has just passed away at the age of 80 in his home in Bologna,Italy . It's difficult to believe that such a force of nature , a conductor so filled with energy and enthusiasm , is no more . But he had been struggling with the effects of stomach cancer for some years , while managing to continue conducting , and his appearance had become more gaunt with age .
Many great conductors have been feared by the musicians who played under them ; they were strict disciplinarians who were respected but dreaded . Toscanini, Szell, Reiner , for example . But Claudio Abbado was universally loved by the world's greatest orchestras which he conducted for decades ; the Berlin Philharmonic, the London symphony , the Vienna Philharmonic, the Chicago symphony , to name only those most closely associated with him , not to mention the orchestras of such great opera companies of the great La Scala opera house in his native Milan and others .
Abbado was the gentle giant of the podium ; never bossy, overbearing and imperious , he won the respect of orchestral musicians everywhere with his exceptional musiciaship and quiet authority . He was equally admired by the world's greatest opera singers , with whom he regularly worked , and the most renowned violinists , pianists and other solo instrumentalists .
Claudio Abbado was chosen by the musicians of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic to succede the legendary Herbert von Karajan as their chief conductor in 1989 shortly after the older maestro died that year , and also been principal conductor of the London symphony orchestra , the music director of La Scala Milan and the Vienna State opera . He also served as principal guest conductor of the Chicago symphony orchestra during the 1980s .
As a budding young conductor in the early 1960s he was an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein ,and guest conducted such great American orchestras as the Boston symphony , Philadelphia and Cleveland on occaision, although his main base was Europe .
Later in life, he founded several special more or less ad hoc orchestras such as the Lucerne Festival orchestra , a deluxe, hand-picked festival orchestra chosen from the greatest orchestras of Europe , and the Mozart orchestra of Bologna , as well as the All-European youth orchestra , drawn from the most talented young aspiring musicians of the continent .
Abbado was at home in a wide rnge of orchestral and operatic repertoire , ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to the most important composers of the present day . In opera , he was especially renowned for his interpretations of Verdi and Rossini Mozart, but also conduted operas by Wagner, Alban Berg, Mussorgsky , Debussy and Richard Strauss .
He was a staunch champion of such leading Italian contemporary composers as Luigi Nono and others , as well as the music of other avant-garde European composers as Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen .
Abbado made numerous recordings , mostly for Deutsche Grammaphon , but also for Sony Classical and Decca of a wide variety of works ,and many have become classics , such as his La Scala recordings of operas by Verdi ,including Don Carlos , Aida , Simon Boccanegra, Macbeth and Un Ballo in Maschera . Classic Rossini opera recordings include Il Barbiere Di Siviglia , La Cenerentola (Cinderella ), and Il Viaaggio Reims .
There are also recordings of Bizet's Carmen, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, Wagner's Lohengrin , Debussy's Pelleas& Melisande , and Berg's Wozzeck .
Abbado recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies twice, with the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, and the complete symphonies of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms , Mahler, and Tchaikovsky . There are also recordings of numerous works by Prokofiev, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Berlioz , Bruckner Debussy etc . Numerous live performances of operas and concerts by the maestro are available on DVD .
Few conductors have been so universally loved and admired as Claudio Abbado , by both audiences musicians and singers . And few have been less egotistical and imperious . He will be universally missed , but leaves a great and priceless legacy of great achievements .
Recently, a friend of mine and his wife went to see their first opera , at a not too shabby a venue - the Metropolitan opera . He's a psychologist based in Manhattan and a Jazz buff . But lately, I've been able to increase his interest in classical music and opera , and when he asked me if he and his wife should try a performance at the Met, I said of course , as you might expect from me .
The opera he chose, with my recommendation , was the new Met production of Tchaikovsky's poignant "Eugene Onegin", based on a lengthy verse poem by the great early 19th century writer Alexander Pushkin . It's the story of a bored and cynical Russiian playboy who by chance meets a naive and vulnerable young woman who falls hopelessly in love with him ,only to be rejected because he has no interest in settling down as a married man . Several years later , he meets her again at a ball in St. Petersburg, where she is now the wife of a much older Russian general . He now realizes that he loves her, but is crushed by her rejection of him now that she is a married woman, even though she still feels love for him .
It's a richly romantic opera with plenty of Tchaikovsky's souldful and haunting melodies . Not a bad choice . My friend asked me about what to wear , and I explained that there is no dress code, and the only time that some people dress formally there is on the opening night of the season, which is a gala occaision .
That's right . If you've never been to an opera performance , those scenes in old movies at the opera with everybody dressed in Tuxedos and gowns are nothing like the real experience of going to the opera today . People don't go there to show off their fancy clothes ; they're there to see and hear an opera . A lot of these people are opera fans - just the same way some people are baseball fans , or of football or basketball . Some will always be opera newbies or people who just attend once in a while . There may be some wealthy people in the audience , usually in the expensive boxes , but they too may be big opera fans . There's absolutely nothing stuffy about the opera experience , whatever it may be like .
Opera fans discuss the performances just as hearedly as sports fans . But unlike sports, there are no clearcut wnners or losers . They disagree very often . But ultimately, EVERYBODY there is a winner , whether the cast or the audience .
I also explained that although the opera was sung in Russian by a mostly Russian cast of singers , and the conductor was also Russian, the Met has a system whereby you can see an English translation of whatever opera is being performed on the back of the seat in front of you , and this certainly helped to enhance their enjoyment of the opera .
Many other opera houses use supertitiles, whereby a translation is projected onto the stage . But thew Met stage is so enormous that it's impossible to project a translation so that everyone can see it, hence the ingenious so-called "Met Titles ".
So if you've never had the pleasure of attending an opera performance at any of the who knows how many which exist all over the globe, don't hesitate yourself ! Would my friend and his wife like to go to more Met performances ? The answer was a definite yes !
The year 2013 in classical music was a bewildering and dizzying mix of artistic excellence and fiscal and administrative woes for performing arts institutions all over the globe . Sometimes it seemed as though the entire world of classical music was bout to implode , yet there have been glimmers of hope amid all the bad news .
First , the bad news . Orchestras and opera companies all over Europe , America and elsewhere are struggling to stay alive and some have gone under . The plucky New York City opera , a fixture in that great city for nearly 70 years , declared bankruptcy and has ceased giving performances , and has been unable to return to Lincoln Center , where it had stood next to the mighty and far more glamorous Metropolitan oper since the 1960s . Billionaire business tycoon David Koch , who had contributed greatly to the company in funding the recent extensive renovation of the former New York State theater, now named after him, is no longer willing to provide the help to save the company , and there are other complex causes for this disaster .
The Minnesota orchestra of Minneapolis has been locked out for over year due a power struggle between the musicians and its management , and Osmo Vanska , its Finnish-born music director has resigned due to the impasse after a decade of critical and audience acclaim as its head , and a series of recordings with Sweden's BIS label has been cancelled . In Italy , the Rome opera is on the verge of going under , as well as the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino opera company in Florence . The whole opera infrstructure in Italy , ironically the birthplace of opera 400 years ago , seems about to implode , apparently due to poor management .
Elsewhere in Europe , two of Germany's most prestigious radio orchestras , those of Stuttgart and the nearby one in thew resort town of Baden-Baden are being merged for financial reasons , and some of the musicians may have to be downsized . At least two of the orchestras of Greece have folded , and in Asia , the Maylasian Philharmonic of Kuala Lumpur is plagued with management problems .
The Brrooklyn Philharmonic in New York, acclaimed for its adventurous programming , has gone bankrupt , as well as the Napa Valley Phiharmonic in California , the San Antonio, Texas, opera , and Opera Boston . The Milwaukee symphony has recently announced financial troubles which could threaten its existence . And there are quite a few others everywhere that are struggling .
But on the plus side , most of the world's who knows how many opera companies are still alive and kicking , and they are performing a very wide variety of repertoire ranging from centuries ago to new or recent works . James Levine , the internationally acclaimed music director of the Metropolitan opera , has returned to the orchestra pit there after nearly two years of severe back trouble and other ailments , and though confined to a motorized wheelchair , he health has improved considerably . He recently conducted the first new production of Verdi's final opera "Falstaff " in nearly 50 years at the Met to considerable acclaim nd his renewed presence on the Met's roster of conductors could not be more welcome .
The young Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin appears to be doing great work reviving the fortunes of the troubled Philadelphia orchestra , one of the world's greatest , after several years without a music director , and he has begun to record with the orchestra for the presitigious Deutsche Grammophon label . After a long search due to James Levine's departure from the Boston symphony due to his severe health problems , the orchestra has found a promising choice to succeed him , the gifted young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons .
In the ridiculous category , the new production of Wagner's Ring cycle at the legendary festival theater in Bayreuth ,Germany in honor of the bicentennial of his birth turned out to be a total travesty of the monumental work . The composer intended the tetralogy of operas to be set in a mythical pagan Germany with the Germanic gods, goddesses, superheroes, giants, dwarves, water nixies , etc, yet the director and designer set the production in contemporary America out west , and also in the oil rich city of Baku, Azerbaijan on the Caspian sea . The Ring is all about greed and lust for power , and the fierce struggle between the gods , dwarves, and giants etc , but the production turned the work into something Wagner could never even have conceived of let alone have approved of . Such preposterous productions of operas have been the norm in European opera companies since the 1970s, and there seems to be no end in sight .
But whatever happens in the near future , don't believe the doomsayers who are convinced that classical music is on life support . You can't keep a great art form down !
December 16 th is Beethoven's birthday , and he was born in 1770 in the provincial German town of Bonn in the Rhineland , which served as the capitol of west Germany before the reunification of east and west , leaving his hometown at the age of 21 to move to Vienna , the greatest musical center of the day in order to seek the chance ot achieve greatness , where he died in 1827 .
We all know that Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of all time , and that he suffered from deafness which progressed slowly beginning in his early 30s even though the exact cause remains a matter of medical speculation . Everyone knows the famous melody of the "Ode To Joy " , the "Da Da Da Daaaah " which opens the fifth symphony , and the catchy melody of his brief piano piece "Fur Elise ", which is just a potboiler and far from being one of his greates or most important works . And the , the correct title is actually "Fur Therese ", as the messy manuscript was apparently misread by the publisher .
But how many people REALLY know Beethoven's music , its emotional power, grandeur , originality , and intensity , as well as its passages of tender lyricism , bloisterous humor , contempltiveness , and other expressive qualities ? Not nearly enough . You really have to take the time to get to know the music by carefull listening , and it helps to know something about the man, his extraordinary life , the context of the times he lived in etc . Fortunately, there is wealth of writing about this , in biographies, books, articles , etc , all esily accessible over the internet .
Beethoven wrote quite a few works which are simple, straightforward , and tuneful , mainly for money . But his nine symphonies, five piano concertos , violin conerto , 32 piano sonatas , his sole opera Fidelio , 16 string quartets , his Miss Sollemnis , a setting of the Roman Catholic mass , and many other works are NOT easy listening if you're new to classical music . In fact , you can listen to them for many,many years without ever leaning everything about them and you will always gain new insights into them from repeated hearings .
And what kind of man was Ludwig Van Beethoven , son of a court singer in Bonn of Flemish origin ? He showed early musical talent as a boy in his hometown , studied with a repsected music techer who taught him the basics of compositon and began to compose his juvenile works, which are very little known today . His father thought he might be able to exploit the boy as a child prodigy like Mozart , and forced him to practice at the keyboard for many hours a day , even treating him roughly .
The young Ludwig never became another Mozart ,but he developed into a formidable piano virtuoso and in his early 20s, realized that he should move from provincial Bonn in Germany to sophisticated Vienna , capitol of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire as well as being the musical capitol of Europe . That was where the opportunity was . He hoped to study with Mozart , but met him only once shortly before his trgically early death . He did manage to study with another great composer and friend of Mozart , Joseph Haydn . But he claimed to have learned little from the great master and was beginning to show his own originality as a composer . He also acheived great acclaim as a piano virtuoso , and the wealthy ,influential music-loving nobility of Vienna recognized his brilliance and began to support him financially and with comissions for a variety of works .
But Beethoven was a stubborn ,headstring , a not particularly deferential,tactful and suave personality who was never willing to suck up to the rich and powerful Viennese aristocracy and powerful politicians , potentates and prelates . He ws gruff , irascible and did not suffer fools gladly . H e never married , but always hoped to find a woman who migh marry him . But he was rather uncouth at times , moved frequently round Vienna serching for an apartment who pleased him and was sloppy, unkempt nd often shabbily dressed . The Viennese tolertaed his foibles, though, because of his genius . His dwellings were a mess . You might call him the Oscar Madison of music, although he had no Viennese Felix Unger neat freak as a roommate - fortunately !
The exact cause remains unclear , but Beethoven began to suffer distressing difficulties with his hearing from his early 30s , and gradually became almost completely deaf . Doctors were unable to help him much , but a crude sound magnifying device , an ear horn, helped him somewhat . He was a stubborn , crotchety , irascible fellow , and while he had many friends among the leading musicians of the day , his frequent ill temper caused rifts between them frequently . He had frequent quarrels with his two brothers , the only surving immediate family members he had ; his parents had had several other children who died in infancy , and his nephew , son of one of them , came to live with him after his parent's a crimonious divorce . Beethoven disapproved of the boy's mother , and thought her to be loose woman . Uncle and nephew had a difficult relationship to say the least .
Deafness forced Beethoven to abandon his brilliant career as a pianist , but fortunately it dd not stop him from producing some of the greatest music ever written ; nine great symphonies , 32 piano sonatas , ten for violin and piano , five for cello and pianoi, five piano concertos , one for violin , sixteen string quartets , one opera called Fidelio , numerous miscellaneous piano works , two masses , other chamber works such as trios for violin, cello and piano , and much, much more .
It was anything but an easy , uneventful life . In addition to his deafness , difficult personality , lack of luck with women , family woes , difficulty in finding musicians and orchestras which could do justice to his denanding works , etc, he was often plagued by various ailments such as stomach trouble and other maladies . When he departed the world in 1827 , his funeral was a public event , and the great Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer delivered a funeral oration .
And as they say , the rest is history . Beethoven's works became an integral part of the standard repertoire for orchestras , pianists, conductors, violinists , and other musicians . But how many of his works do YOU know,a ssuming you are not a lover of classical music , a professional musician or musicologist ? There's so much more to Beethoven than a few famous tunes . The melodies , more properly called themes, in Beethoven are only the basic building blocks of his works . What mkes them great is what he does with those basic, often simple melodies , constntly trnsforming them with such ingenuity , and forming them into works of great complexity and depth .
Have you experienced that grandeur , intensity and emotional power of Beethoven's music, as well as its tender lyricism , boisterous humor and moments of deep contemplation , its many-sidedness which I just mentioned ? If not , please start listening carefully to his music , and go far beyond those popular tunes which everyone knows . You'll never regret it !
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozrt is an iconic figure in western culture ; we hear his music constantly , or fragments of it, constantly in popular culture, on television etc , and countless people have seen the entertaining if not very historically accurate film Amadeus . But how well do we really know his music , which consists of approximtely 600 works of all kinds written during his tragically brief life of 35 years ?
Only a small part of which which is performed everywhere by orchestras ,opera companies and other groups . LIke so many famous composers , Mozart is known to the general public by only a small number of his numerous works . These include 41 (numbered) symphonies , 22 operas, several which are in fragmentary form, 27 piano concertos , numerous string quartets and chamber works for a variety of instruments , religious works for chorus and orchestra , concertos for flute, oboe, violin , clarinet, bassoon, French horn , many pio sonatas and miscellaneous works for that instrument , oratorios and other works for chorus and orchestra ,etc .
So lately , I've been taking a advantage of chance to hear many works of his I had not heard before or knew only slightly on CD because one of the public libraries I frequent has a collection of ALL of Mozarts works in many volumes on the Philips label performed by a wide variety of distinguished conductors , top orchestras , violinists ,pianists , opera singers , choruses and chamber ensembles . All of these recordings have been availble singly , and you may still be able to find some of them on the internet at Amazon.com and Arkivmusic.com .
Unfortunately , the Philips label , which was based in the Netherlands , is no longer producing classical recordings , although much of its large and excellent back catalogue of recordings is being reissued on the Decca Label, with which it was affiliated , so it's probably very difficult to find this huge set .
For example, Mozart's best known operas include such familiar masterpieces as Don Giovanni , The Marriage of Figaro and the Magic Flute . These are the products of Mozart's last years . But he began writing operas as a boy , including such obscure ones as Bastien & Bastienne, Mitridate , King of Pontus, Il Re Pastore (The shepard king) , La Finta Giardinera ( the pretended woman gardener ), Lucio Silla , and others . None of these has held the stage because they are hardly immortal masterpieces of the opera repertoire , although the Salzburg festival , which is in his native city presented a cycle of all 22 Mozart operas back in 2006 , the 250th anniversary of his birth .
But it's amazing that such a young boy could write them at all . They're pleasant to hear , if not nearly as memorable as his mature works for the operatic stage . No, not every work Mozart wrote is a sublime masterpiece . It took quite a few years for this great genius to reach maturity , and who knows how many masterpieces he might have produced if he had lived beyond the short lifespan fate assigned to him .
Like so many composers of the day , Mozart wrote works on commission to make money . He didn't just wait there until "inspiration" struck him . He worked very hard , and many of his works are mere potboilers , which is nothing to be ashamed of . For a long time, Mozart worked as official court composer to the archbishop of his native Salzburg , and did not like living there as pretty much a hack for the archbishop, whom he disliked . For the last ten years of his tragically short life, he was able to move to Vienna , the center of music in Europe and worked as a free lance composer and pianist . It was not as secure a living as in provincial Salzburg , but he relished the freedom and was able to write his greatest symphonies ,operas , concertos and chamber works there , the ones by which he is best known .
But I'm still glad to have gotten the chance to hear the forgotten corners of the output of one of the greatest geniuses in the history of music . There's a saying that goes "No one can be a genius 24 hours a day ". But Mozart's best hours have provided us with so many great works .
When we think about composers , we usually think of men . Why are there no female Beethovens , Mozarts , and Bachs ?
Why do we almost always hear music by men alone at concerts ? The reasons cannot be explained by sexism alone , although sexism certainly has played a role in this .
There have been women composers from the very beginning of what we call western classical music , centuries ago . And far more than most people realize . After googling a list of them , I found a list of hundrends of them going back nearly a thousand years ago to the present day . Women composers from every corner of Europe , plus Americans ,Candians and Asians etc . None of them household names , but some with some reputation and familiar to died in the wool classical music buffs .
Pauline Viardot , Dame Ethyl Smyth , Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade , Lili Boulanger , Germaine Tailleferre , Louise Farrenc, Grazyna Bacewicz , Ruth Crawford Seeger , Elisabeth Lutyens , ? You've probably never heard of any of these women composers , but they all had some reputation in the past , and music by all of them has been recorded . And numerous other women composers .
Clara Schumann ( 1819 - 1896 ) was the wife of the great Robert Schumann , and survived him by 40 years . She was a renowned pianist and a composer in her own wright . Felix Mendelssohn's sister Fanny showed considerable musical talent, and also composed . But unfortunately , her very proper family did not think it appropriate for a young lady to compose, and some of her works were actually published under her much more famous brother's name !
Ethyl Smyth of England was probably the best known woman composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries , and she was actually awarded the title of Dame Ethyl Smyth . Her opera "The Wreckers", her best known work , was successfully performed all over Europe and England , and a recording of it was made in London some years ago . She also has the distinction of be9ing the only women composer to have have an opera performed by the Metropolitan opera , about a century ago . It was in German and called "Der Wald " (the forest ), but hs faded into oblivion since , like so mny other operas whether the composer was male or female .
But in recent years , barriers to to women making successful careers have been receding , and the glass ceiling is being shattered . There are now more women composers than ever before , and more young aspring women composers studying in music schools everywhere . It's no longer even news when an orchestra plays a work by a woman composer any more or an opera house does an opera by one .
Kaaia Saariaho of Finland (1952 -) is one of today's most widely performed composers , male or female , and her music has been championed by such eminent conductors as her countryman Esa-Pekka Salonen , Kent Nagano and others , and recorded . Her opera "L'Amour de Loin " (love from afar ) , set toa libretto in French, is the story of medieval love mong the troubadors , has had international acclain and has been available both on CD and DVD .
Jennifer Higdon (1962 - ) has written numerous orchestrl works which have been performed by leading orchestras all over America and elsewhere . South Korea's Unsuk Chin hs written a highly etertaining opera based on Alice in Wonderland , which can be found on DVD .
Sofia Gubaidullina , (1931 -) is Russia's best known woman composer , and her music has been performed all over the world and has been championed by many eminent composers and instrumentalists . Judith Weir (1954 -) is proably England's best known living woman composer .
This list barely scratches the surface . But one thing is certain ; it's a better time to be a woman composer than ever before .
The great Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was born 200 years ago today , to humbe parents in a small town in northern Italy near Parma . He grew up to become the foremost Italian opera composer of his day , a national hero in Italy , and many of his 26 operas are beloved fixtures of the operatic repertoire all over the world . When he died a venerated old man in Milan in 1901 , his funeral was a national event attended by thousands .
Everyone knows the so-called "Anvil chorus " and "La Donna e Mobile ", even people who have never been inside an opera house , but these are only a couple of the greatest hits from his operas . Verdi's operas are stirring, melodious , full of action and vivid characters such as the bitter , hunchbacked court jester Rigoletto , Violetta , the doomed consumptive Parisian courtesan in La Traviata , Azucena , the Spanish gypsy woman who is consumed with lust for vengance , Aida , the Ethiopian handmaid to the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh who is desperately in love with her betrothed, the commander of the Egyptian army but cannot hve him , the fat , drunken English rogue Falstaff , and others ,
So it's no wonder these operas have been so popular at opera houses everywhere since the mid 19th century . Verdi gave audiences what they wanted , and more . And they still speak to us today . He was a practical man of the theater who used the conventions of Italian opera as a tool for realizing his genius , but ws never afraid to be innovative . In this , he was vastly different from his great German contemporary Richard Wagner, born in the same year , 1813 in Leipzig , who was a visionary and revolutionary whose musical goals were sometimes extravagant,impractical and quixotic , and who caused so miuch controversy both in his day and long after . They are apples and oranges . Both towering figures in the history of opera .
Many of the greatest opera singers of the 19th and 20th centuries have achieved world renown singing the operas of Verdi , as well as recording them . Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso , Rosa Ponselle, Renata Tebaldi , Renata Scotto , Luciano Pavarotti , Placido Domingo , Tito Gobbi , Mario Del Monaco , Sherrill Milnes , Nicolai Ghiaurov , Richard Tucker , Zinka Milanov , Leontyne Price , to name only handful .
And they have been conducted by such legendary maestros as Arturo Toscanini , who knew him personally and learned from him , Tullio Serafin , Victor De Sabata , Claudio Abbado , Carlo Maria Giulini, Riccardo Muti , as well as non-italian conductors Herbert von Karajan , Sir Georg Solti , James Levine , and others .
Verdi's most popular operas include his final two masterpieces Otello , based on the Shakespeare play Othello , Falstaff , based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives Of Windsor , the earlier Aida , set in ancient Egypt , Il Trovatore , set in medieval Spain , Rigoletto , La Traviata (the woman who strayed ) , Don Carlo , the story of the 16th century Spanish king Philip and his rebellious son Carlos , Un Bllo in Maschera ( a masked ball ) , story of the assssination of the Swedish king Gustaf , and Macbeth , also based on the Shakespeare play .
The early operas of Verdi are not performed nearly as often , but they are sometimes revived , and include Nabucco , story of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews under king Nebachudnezzar (Nabucco is the Italian form of the name ) , Attila , somewhat fictionalized story of the king of the Huns , etc . The Italians pronounce Attila with the accent on the first syllable .
Among Verdi's non-operatic works are the beloved Requiem , a setting of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead , which he wrote despite the fact that he was an agnostic . Many other composers , including Mozart and Berlioz , have written settings of the requiem , but Verdi's is perhaps the most popular . It has been described as a somewhat operatic version of sacred music , but no one seems to object to this ! The Requiem was written around 1870 to honor the death of the once famous Italian novelist Alessndro Manzoni , whom Verdi and so many other Italians revered .
If you are new to Verdi's operas , there are an enormous number of complete recordings of them to choose from . You might start with Rigoletto,La Traviata , Il Trovatore , and Aida , and the recordings by such great singers as Pavarotti , Callas, Renata Scotto , Tito Gobbi , Leontyne Price , Robert Merrill etc on such presitigious record labels as Decca ,EMI, R.C.A., and Deutsche Grammophon , with such great conductors as Carlo Maria Giulini, Clauido Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Sir Georg Solti nd Herbert von Karajan .
There are also numerous live performances on DVD from the Metropolitan opera, La Scala ,Milan , the Royal opera in London , etc . You'll soon learn why Verdi's operas are so popular !
It's early October , and the world's symphony orchestras ,opera companies etc are back in business . The world's who knows how many orchestras and opera companies have been revving up . The classical music world is beset with troubles ; many performing arts organizations are struggling with finances and/ or labor disputes , and the risk of folding because of tough economic times is widespread . Some have indeed gone under , but the vast majority are alive and kicking .
There are threatened orchestras and opera companies as well as defunct ones in such American cities as Minneapolis , Boston , New York , Nashville, Louisville , San Antonio , St. Paul , to name only some . Many orchestral musicians have been forced to accept pay cuts . Nothing is certain except uncertainty .
But there is also good news . James Levine , the beloved longtime music director of the Metropolitan opera , has returned to the pit for the first time in two years after a long and painful struggle with severe back trouble and injuries , despite being confined to a wheelchair . The prestigious Philadelphia orchestra seems to be doing well under its gifted and charismatic music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin of Canada after a long search for a new music director , and has just issued a recording of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring under him on the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label .
The Boston symphony orchestra is anticipating the arrival of the gifted young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons as its new music director , replacing Levine , who was forced to resign because of his health problems .
But financial problems are now threatening Europe's orchestras and opera companies after decades of generous government subsidies . In Germany , even such prestigious orchestras as the Stuttgart radio orchestra and the South West German radio orchestra in the resort town of Baden Baden could go under .
There will still be enormous diversity of repertoire performed all over the world . Never in the centuries old tradition of western classical music has such wide variety of works by so many different composers ,living and dead , been performed . The beloved staples of the operatic, orchestral and chamber music repertoire re still very much with us - music by Mozart ,Beethoven, Bach , Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky , Dvorak , Wagner, Verdi,Puccini , etc , but there is no lack of new music by a wide variety of living composers , and many interesting long neglected works from the past are being revived .
Dead White European Males have no monopoily on what is being heard . Among the very much alive are John Adams , Philip Glass , Christopher Rouse , Jennifer Higdon , Nico Muhly , of America , Osvaldo Golijov of Argentina , now living in America , Kaaia Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg of Finland , Wolfgang Rihm of Germany , Arvo Part of Estonia , Krzystof Penderecki of Poland , Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle of England , and Unsuk Chin of South Korea . Saariaho , Higdon , and Chin are women . It's no longer even news when a work by a woman composers is performed any more .
A number of eminent conductors have passed away recently , including Wolfgang Sawallisch , Sir Colin Davis , Paavo Berglund ,Kurt Sanderling , and Bruno Bartoletti , but there are brilliant younger conductors beginning to achieve international prominence, such as Gustavo Dudamel , Andris Nelsons , Robin Ticciati and others , and such great maestros as Claudio Abbado , Riccrdo Muti, James Levine , Bernrd Haitink , Mriss Jansons , Daniel Barenboim , Leonard Slatkin , Simon Rattle , Lorin Maazel , Valery Gergiev , and others are still going strong .
There is still a galaxy of great opera singers , pianists , violinists and cellists etc , and there are more world class orchestras than ever before . Don't believe the hype - classical music is far from being dead or dying .
Recently, I borrowed a CD from my local library of recordings by the once famous , or notorious American soprano ? Forence Foster Jenkins , who my have been the worst snger in the history of the vocal art . This eccentric lady , who managed to make a successful career despite her apprent lack of any vocal talent or musicianship , is one of the most curious stories in the history of classical music .
She was born the daughter of a wealthy banker in Wilkes Barre Pennsylvnia in 1868 and was a total amateur . She studied voice in Europe despite a lack of ny talent , and when her father died in 1909 she inherited enough to begin making a career of sorts on her own .
Jenkins' singing is so awful it's fun ! She could not sing on pitch to sve her life , her rhythmic accurcy was non-existent and she sounded like a wounded duck ! Her pronunciation of foreign languages was comically bad . But audiences loved her demented caterwauling ! In a sense, she may have been the first performance artist , active long before the term was invented .
She would perform in elaborate and ridiculous-looking costumes of her own design , including one with angel's wings , changing at least twice during recitals . She was able to book even prestigious Carnegie hall for herself , nd her recitals were egerly awaited and actually sold out ! Her accompanist was the grotesquely-named Cosmo Mc Moon , who was able to adjust to her rhythmic and musical ineptitude and even wrote some songs for her . She tried to tackle some very difficult operatic arias with hilariously disastrous results , such as the fiendishly difficult revenge aria of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's famous opera The Magic Flute .
On the recording, you can hear how she is totally unable to reach the dizzying high notes of this aria and is off by a mile ! The ironic thing is that she always considered herself to be a serious singer ! The CD is on the R.C..A. label . If you're unable to find it. check youtube, which has wealth of performances by famous classical musicians . It's a blast !
For nearly a year, the classical music world has been wringing its collective hands over the plight of the members of the Minnesota orchestra of Minneapolis , an orchestra with a long and illustrious history . Due to protracted disagreements with the orchestra's management over salary nd benefits etc , the musicians have been locked out by the intransigent individuals who run the orchestra , particularly its general manager, who shall remain nameless here .
It's almost time for the beginning of the orchestra's 2013-14 season , and no way through the impasse is in sight . The orchestra's music director and chief conductor , the distinguished Finnish maestro Osmo Vanska , has threatened to resign if the orchestra does not settle the lockout in time for the new season, which includes appearnces at Carnegie hall . Thisw is a pity, because the orchestra has been enjoying international acclaim under Vanska's leadership and had begun to make commercial studio recordings , incluidng an acclaimed set of all 9 Beethoven symphonies at a time when very few orchestras anywhere are making commercil stuido recordings becuse of economic difficulties .
Sessions to record symphonies by Sibelius, a specialty of the maestro given his Finnish nationality , have been cancelled . Several musicians in the orchestra have successfully auditioned for positions in other major U.S. orchestras . The fate of one of America's finest orchestra is uncertin, an orchestra which had flourished under the dirrection of such eminent conductors as Dimitri Mitropoulos, Antal Dorati,Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and Edo DeWaart .
The orchestra has called on the government of the state of Minnesota for help , but no end to the mess is in sight . The musicians nd the management are at each others throats , but the management will not give in . If you are a Minnesota resident, PLEASE contact your local representiatives and the two Minnesota senators and sk them to intervene . The fate of one of America's finest orchestras is at stake .
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